Hundreds show up to see Liberal leader Justin Trudeau
Okotoks: Campaign-style speech touches on economy, Keystone XL pipeline, marijuana
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Thursday, Jan 23, 2014 03:33 pm
The Liberal Party of Canada may not have a candidate yet for this spring’s Macleod byelection, but that didn’t stop its leader from delivering a campaign-style speech in Okotoks last night.
The party has not seen much success at the ballot box in the Macleod riding in the past, placing fourth in the last two elections, but Liberal leader Justin Trudeau doesn’t want people to count them out.
“I know that we’re going to surprise an awful lot of people the way we did in rural Manitoba where nobody thought we even had a shot,” he said. “We’ve got a great team we’re pulling together and people across the country are looking for an alternative. And, we are that alternative.”
A crowd of more than 250 filled a packed room in the Foothills Centennial Centre on Jan. 22 to hear Trudeau speak on a range of issues from marijuana legalization and electoral reform, to the Keystone XL Pipeline and enhancing economic opportunities for the middle class.
Trudeau said he was encouraged by the size of the crowd.
“This is something really extraordinary and it really encourages me, not just because the Liberal Party is getting resonance across the country, but it does mean that people are tired of the negativity, of the divisiveness, or the attacks that characterize politics,” he said.
While the Macleod riding has not been a traditional campaign stop for Liberal leaders over the years, the speech was Trudeau’s second time in town in less than a year.
He was in Okotoks and High River after last year’s floods and also helped a friend clean out the basement of her home.
“I was down here to see the extraordinary flood recovery efforts and glad to lend a hand as well,” he said.
As recovery efforts continue, Trudeau said the federal government has to be there to support the work being done in foothills communities to get back on their feet.
“The federal government needs to continue to be a partner in restoring people to stability in terms of their homes and in terms of their workplaces,” he said.
He told the gathered audience many Canadians are not benefiting from economic growth, the middle class is struggling and the challenge now is how to turn this around.
“Over the past 30 years our economy doubled in size once again, grown over 100 per cent, but over those same 30 years average family income, median household income has increased by only 14 per cent,” he said. “People now feel that they haven’t had a raise, we haven’t had a real raise in 30 years.”
He said Canada’s natural resources are the source of immense opportunity for the country, but he criticized the Conservative government for not living up to its environmental responsibilities.
He said the failure to get the Keystone XL Pipeline built is the result of a lack of environmental leadership. The proposed pipeline would ship bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to refineries in the U.S. However, it has been harshly criticized over potential environmental of its route through the U.S. and affects of continued expansion of the oilsands on the environment.
“The fact that over the past eight years we haven’t been able to get approval for the single most important energy infrastructure piece of our time, approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will unlock greater potential for our markets, is failure of environmental responsibility by this prime minister,” he said.
He said environmental and economic issues go hand in hand and one cannot be considered without addressing the other.
Trudeau said he believes in electoral reform. He said he would support using a system of preferential votes in elections where people can express a first choice, a second choice and so on. If no candidate received more than 50 per cent of the vote at first, then the second votes would be added to their tally.
“That approach means that whoever gets elected to be MP has at least 50 per cent support from the community that they deem to represent,” he said.
He said it would help to build common political ground and will ensure government’s won’t have a majority of seats in the House of Commons with a minority of support at the ballot box.
Trudeau, who has publicly admitted to smoking marijuana while in office and expressed support for legalizing the drug, said prohibition has failed.
“The fact of the matter is, our current approach on marijuana, the prohibition Mr. Harper continues to defend, is failing,” he said.
He said he is watching what is happening in other jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized, such as Uruguay and the states of Colorado or Washington in the U.S.
He said he wants to see how it works out and learn from their experiences.
An Okotoks couple volunteering to help out at the event said they felt optimistic about the party’s future as they watched hundreds of people pack the small room.
“When we moved to Okotoks we figured we probably tripled the number of Liberals in the riding,” said Jim Hammersley. “He’s got a long battle, but I think there’s a lot of people who aren’t as enamored with the Conservatives as they were last time.”
He said he enjoyed hearing Trudeau speak and he expects the party to be active in the coming byelection.
“I think they’ll be doing a lot more once the campaign gets into full swing,” said Hammersley.
His wife Sharon said the party’s success will depend on who the ultimate candidate is once the campaign gets underway.
She said she didn’t expect to see so many people come out to hear Trudeau speak, and she believes he made an impact on the audience.
“He’s made a big impression and a lot of people came here to hear him speak and they left happy,” said Sharon.